The knockout phase of Europe’s elite competition, the UEFA Champions League returned to our screens last night with two eye catching games as PSG hosted Barcelona whilst German side Borussia Dortmund were away at Benfica in Portugal.
All eyes however were in Paris as the game of the night took place coincidentally on St. Valentine ’s Day and what a game it turned out to be. Unai Emery’s side produced a master class to take a commanding 4 nil advantage in the first leg of the tie. The third goal on the night by Di Maria was the highlight of the confidence and beauty of the PSG display, the move which started all the way from Trapp playing out from the back, which is a typical Barcelona move, all the way to Di Maria who curled a beauty past Ter Stegen was a joy to watch and the likes of Veratti, Rabiol, Draxler all ran riot on the night and effected a little bit of revenge for all the past defeats suffered in the hands of the Catalan giants.
In Portugal, Benfica stole a win with their only shot on target whilst Pierre Emerick Aubameyang had a night to forget as he missed gilt edged chances including a penalty before been taken off by Tuchel, many may say the PSG VS Barcelona tie is all but over, the same cannot be said of this second fixture when the Portugese side visits the Westfalenstadion in some weeks time.
Day 2 sees yet another juicy tie as German champions Bayern Munich host English side Arsenal in yet another tie that has a familiar ring to it, while the Bernebeu is the stage for Napoli’s visit.
Bayern Munich VS Arsenal: Arsenal despite always progressing through the group stages have not made it past the second round in the last six seasons, twice suffering defeat in the hands of the Bavarians. However, both sides meet at a point where their forms have not been entirely too convincing despite recording victories in their last league games. Carlo Ancelotti has struggled to imprint his style on the Bayern side but he is a manager who seemingly has a love affair with the Champions league winning it with two different teams in the past, whilst for Arsene Wenger, the victory at the weekend placated the fans a little who were asking for his departure after two consecutive defeats, progress beyond the round of sixteen will further soothe the fans and help with the gunners mentality as they continue to challenge for silverware before the end of the season.
Jerome Boateng and Frank Ribery will be missing for the German side but Robben made a return over the weekend including scoring a vital goal, Alonso has also been passed fit and Robert Lewandowski who has 25 goals to his name this season already will be eager to add to it. If there is a tie where Arsenal like PSG stand a chance of turning the tides, it has to be this one, but will Wenger like Emery get his tactics right on the night? Will the likes of Ozil turn up like Di Maria did to lead his side to victory? And is the mentality right going into this fixture? I am one who expects Bayern Munich to win this but for them to stand a chance of qualifying over two legs, they have to not just win but win by a wide margin.
Prediction: Bayern Munich 3 Arsenal 1
Real Madrid VS Napoli: When the draws were made late last year, many immediately tagged this an easy fixture for Real Madrid, but events thereafter have proven that this may not just be the walkover predicted, the Los Merengues have suffered a dip in form, had their unbeaten run stopped, suffered several key injuries and star forward Cristiano Ronaldo not being at his best.
Whilst Napoli are off the back of an 18 games unbeaten run since the start of the year, the game sees Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol return to their former grounds while Marcelo and Gareth Bale are expected to make a return from injury. Cristiano Ronaldo will still be the man to watch for Madrid as he has an amazing 34 goals in 38 knockout games for Madrid but Dries Mertens is one that Zidane will be conscious of in his match plans as he has 16 Serie A goals to his name already.
Prediction: Madrid may not be at their convincing best but they do know how to win when that is the requirement and at the Bernebeu, that may just be asking too much from the Napoli side, I expect Madrid to get a convincing win to take into the second leg.